Charles Dahan was an 11-year-old living off the coast of Morocco in 1960 when the deadly Agadir earthquake struck the country, killing over 12,000 people and injuring 12,000 more. 63 years later, Dahan and his family were visiting Morocco for his daughter’s wedding just one day before the 6.8 magnitude earthquake devastated the area on Sept. 8.
Some of Dahan’s family members were still in Morocco when the quake hit, damaging buildings across multiple cities and devastating remote villages in the High Atlas Mountains.
Dahan, a Potomac, Md. resident, and member of Magen David Sephardic Congregation in Rockville, had left Morocco the day before the earthquake, but immediately felt the need to provide help to people in need in his home country.
With heavy damage making most structures unsafe, many people slept outside on the streets, including Dahan’s family, causing people to come together to help each other get through the disaster.
“There was a tremendous amount of solidarity of the people in the street. It was unbelievable. Everybody reacted in a positive manner. Everybody that was able to help went out to help. Everybody that needed help got help,” Dahan said.
But help is still struggling to reach the Atlas Mountain region, where the need for aid is rapidly increasing with houses destroyed and a lack of food, water and protection from the elements.
Dahan knows all too well how crucial it is to get the roads to these remote villages reopened immediately, having worked in the region for almost 30 years.
“I work with the High Atlas Foundation, where we provide trees and help the local people there. So, we know the villages, we know the people, we know who they are and we know where they are,” Dahan said. “When there is a heavy rain, the biggest thing that happens is borders come down crashing and usually destroy access to the villages, while the earthquake did that, times 10. So, a lot of the villages could not be reached for at least two days.”
He also said one of the biggest issues residents are facing is the extreme cold temperatures in the mountain at night.
“It’s also very high up in the mountain, it’s 10,000 feet, and up. So, right now, it’s very cold at night. And it’s very cold starting at 4 p.m. During the day, it’s a decent temperature, so they had requested mostly blankets, diapers, amenities that they needed immediately,” Dahan said.
With this knowledge of the conditions and long-standing connections in the area, Dahan was immediately able to get to work, even though he was already back in the U.S. He called local people he knew and arranged for supplies to be sent to the Atlas Mountains as soon as it became possible.
“A lot of people know I’m from Morocco, I’m the World VP of Moroccan Jews. So, I’m pretty active in the Jewish community,” Dahan said. “Everybody knew I was in Morocco for the wedding of my daughter. The guests of the wedding, a few of them stayed to visit Morocco and were surprised by the earthquake. But they all contacted me on how they could help.”
Dahan said they were able to collect $60,000 in donations on the first day and get trucks full of requested items ready to go. His family and other volunteers still in Morocco were also able to purchase large baskets for the supermarket and get those transported to people in need.
The aid donation process is complicated for regular people who want to help, but Dahan recommends looking at international NGOs like Global Giving and the Iota Foundation. Additionally, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington established a Morocco Earthquake Relief Fund to help people in need.
And the backdrop of this disaster is the timing coinciding with the High Holidays, making these past few days hard for Dahan to wrap his head around the emotional roller coaster he and many others are experiencing.
“It’s very difficult to show joy when you see so much desperation. You almost feel guilty about showing pictures of a wedding when you have this happening. But Rosh Hashanah is a symbol of hope,” Dahan said. “And everything about Rosh Hashanah is about the hope this new year is going to bring us – peace, abundance, health.”
Dahan also reflected on why this crisis is so personal for him and many others because of Morocco’s rich Jewish history that stretches back several thousand years.
“We have an attachment to Morocco that no other Jewish ethnic group has. Some people don’t even understand it, but they recognize it because the influence of the holidays, of the weddings and births celebrated by Jews are now celebrated by Muslims,” Dahan said. “In the same manner, we celebrated our religion, and our holidays and joyful moments. So Morocco is very much attached to our heart.”
List of Relief Groups Providing Aid
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee: jdc.org
Jewish Federation of Greater Washington: shalomdc.org
American Red Cross: redcross.org